Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video Making decisions differently: Trees vs. forests, part of Communication Tips.
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- Recently, I worked virtually with two international colleagues on an assignment that required us to design delivery of a workshop. To make matters more complicated, our audience was international in yet another overseas location and the project involved a new software system that none of us were familiar with. Even though my story is starting to sound like a tasteless joke, in all seriousness, it reminded me of the importance of how people take in information and analyze a new scenario at the start of a project.
Would my colleagues want to see the big picture and all the possibilities first? What I call the forest approach. Or, would they prefer to focus on the details first? Layout the step-by-step, what I like to call the trees approach. Michael was a tree person. He wanted to sketch out details. He wanted to make the agenda. He asked questions that related to the reference materials and he wanted to be sure that our audience would be prepared with all the information beforehand.
As a tree person, Michael links information to immediate applications. He wants to include facts and figures and he prefers concrete examples. He likes a step-by-step approach and because of that, his trainings provide the learners with a wide range of information and resources to reference back to. My other colleague, George, was a forest person. As soon as we were given the assignment, he wanted to brainstorm ideas, explore the learning objectives and explore the design possibilities.
As a forest person, George sees patterns in the flow of information and understands the big picture. George wanted to be sure that our training would have long-term impact for the participants. And he kept jumping ahead on the final product of the day. When George designs trainings, the theory gets covered but he spends a lot of time on applications with scenarios where audience members can practice what they've learned. Michael and George were the perfect match for this project.
Because they differed in the way they processed information. If I had worked with them separately, I would want to be strategic and to make sure to communicate with each according to their preferred style. With Michael, the tree preference information gatherer, I would do the following: discuss detailed examples and focus on the facts. Relate new ideas to familiar ones or procedures that have worked in the past. Have a plan for presenting information that was methodical and had building blocks.
Stick with concrete examples versus using metaphors, analogies or abstract examples. As for George, the forest preference information gatherer, I would do the following: open the discussion with the possibilities of the final outcome. Identify themes and patterns in our conversation process. I would stay future-focused and welcome free flow of the discussion. I would avoid guidelines and time limits and ground rules that would stifle the conversation.
Recognizing the differences in how people take in information is the secret to good communication. What I hope you've gathered from my story of working with George and Michael is that once you get an inkling of how your colleagues operate and try to flex to their style you can get so much more accomplished and practice your skills in the process. Next time you're working on a project with a colleague, ask them for their preference in receiving the initial information and see if you can figure out if they're a tree or a forest person before the project kicks off.
Good luck to you!
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